Since I'm in my mid-30s, I tend to come across a lot of posts that talk about sleep training for babies as many of the people in my life have infants and small children. I hear and read about them talking about the exhaustion, the interrupted sleep, and the sleepless nights, and I think - me, too, sister. Let me be clear, though. When I say that, I'm not trying to compare my sleep issues with their challenges. I know their exhaustion is so much bigger than mine as they are providing 24/7 care for an infant. But I do understand the challenge and frustration of sleep deprivation. I know what it is like to feel like a zombie as that is how I felt during the month of August when my sleep quality was at an all-time low.
Those feelings of exhaustion and frustration led me to meet with a sleep specialist at the end of August. After filling out a long questionnaire, tracking my sleep for 10 days, and having a long discussion about my sleep problems, they confirmed what I pretty much knew already - I have insomnia. They explained what they felt triggered my insomnia, explained why it has gotten worse and then went over a list of things that I could do to improve my sleep. The good news is that insomnia is curable. The bad news is that it takes a lot of discipline and it won't improve overnight.
I've been working on incorporating the suggestions that they made and thought I'd review them here as it seems like I encounter more and more people who struggle to sleep. So hopefully this post will help someone who is experiencing sleep struggles!
1. Go to bed when you are tired. I almost feel embarrassed to start off with this because it seems so obvious, kind of like the advice to only eat when you are hungry. But I do not have control of when I have to wake up in the morning, so I tried to control when I went to bed. I would consider when I had to be up and go to bed at a time that would allow me to get ~8 hours of sleep. But going to bed because "it was time to go to bed" instead of because I was tired meant that I'd often toss and turn, and then that tossing and turning would feed thoughts like, "oh my God, what if I don't fall asleep tonight? How will I function tomorrow?" Which made it even MORE difficult to fall asleep. These days, I do not try to go to bed unless I am tired. The often means staying up later than I would like, but it also means falling asleep easier.
2. Bed is only for sleeping. I used to read in bed before going to sleep but the doctor said to stop doing this as I need to train my brain to only associate my bed with sleep. Now I read on my couch until I feel exhausted/near the point of falling asleep and then I go to bed.
3. Take melatonin with dinner. Before I started taking Ambien, and after I stopped taking Ambien in July, I habitually used melatonin. Except I was doing it all wrong as I was taking it at bedtime. It turns out that it's more effective to take it several hours before going to bed. It's not supposed to illicit feelings of sleepiness - it's meant to train your body to produce more melatonin. Now I try to take it with dinner or within a couple of hours of going to bed.
4. If you are awake for more than 10 minutes during the night, get out of bed and go do something, like read. This is BY FAR the hardest piece of advice to put into practice. It's common for me to wake up during the night and not fall back asleep and the last thing I want to do at that time is get out of bed, even though I know that laying in bed and tossing and turning won't help me. I've gotten better about being disciplined about this but it's so hard. I usually only have to read for 20-30 minutes and then I'll feel tired enough to go back to bed, but it's still frustrating and annoying. Some weeks I only have to do this once but last week I had to get up and read 4 nights!
Those are the 4 big things I've been doing and they are definitely helping. I'm still not sleeping as great as I'd like to be but I'm certainly sleeping more than I did in August! Hopefully my sleep continues to improve!
Would you characterize yourself as a good sleeper? If you aren't, what tricks do you employ to improve your sleep?